I finally gathered up enough courage to quilt my first quilt on a long arm! As I posted earlier, I took a class at Mad About Quilts (MAQ) in Mansfield, MA. Dora and MaryAnn run the studio and are an absolute joy to be around. They are so nice, patient beyond words and very supportive. The patience and the supportive part, very important features to have in this business!
I went through my large pile of tops on the chair of shame and found one that I already had a backing for. So, having everything I needed, I sat down and made the call to book my appointment. I grabbed my safety pins and started pinning the back and the top to the zipper system MAQ uses. It's a pain to pin these items but what a time saver in the long run! When they get zippered on, it's already centered and so easy to load onto the machine. Plus, if you don't finish (which you probably won't), the next time the quilt is loaded on, it's perfectly aligned again.
MaryAnn wasn't around the first night I went so Dora helped me load the quilt on the machine and we made sure it was straight at it was loading and taut. I then chose Clematis for my pattern. Dora was very nice as she tried showing my easier patterns to start with for my first time but I liked Clematis and Clematis was what I was going to have.
So, with the quilt loaded on the machine and the machine all threaded, Dora reminded me of checking the tension to the side, and basting the top and sides as we went. It's important to note that basting as close to the edge of the quilt is very important. Basting even a 1/4" from the edge can cause the edges to fold over as you're quilting. It's a learning process that I learned very quickly. So, with everything ready, and having more instruction on what buttons to push (I usually know what buttons to push, just ask my family, but this is a little different) I was raring to go.
I quickly learned that Dora was right, there probably would have been an easier pattern to start with but I was determined to make this one work. The pattern itself is lovely but it's confusing because it has a lot of points, swirls (which I love) and loop d loops so although you're following the pattern, it's very easy to forget which way you're going because this particular pattern changes directions.
Before I know it, I'm in the quilting zone and everything is great until Dora notices the thread has broken. She helps me take out the stitches, we line up the pattern again and I'm off and running until the next time the thread breaks. We tried changing needles thinking maybe we need to go to a larger needle, which helped but the thread continued to break. I am a huge fan of Superior Thread but there is one line of theirs where I've always experienced breakage and shredding on my home machine, which is much slower than a long arm. Needless to say, I chose this brand of thread. Both Dora and MaryAnn have said they have never had a problem with it... well, at least until I came along.
I plundered on and kept one eye on the thread and another on my panto and soon Dora and I were pretty quick in stopping the flow of quilting so we could tend to the thread and get it all lined up again. This is where the patience comes in real handy.
I quilted the first night for three hours and got most of the quilt done. I made another appointment for the following week and went back. We loaded the quilt on the machine again making sure it was all lined up and straight. It took a while to line up the design correctly but we did it and I was off and running again. This time I went slower and tried very hard to keep my movements as even as possible. This helped but the thread continued to break. It was unfortunate but that's just part of the process.
All in all it took me 5 hours to quilt a 65 x 75 throw. I'm sure it could have been less time if I chose an easier pattern and if the thread didn't break at least once on every row. But, I'm thrilled with the end result.
Of course, it's not perfect and I can see every mistake but I am so thrilled with what I've done. Considering that it was my first time, I chose a hard pattern for a beginner and kept losing the quilting zone, I couldn't be happier. I've already made an appointment to start on my niece's quilt this Wednesday after work.